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Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

French post-impressionist painter,
lithographer and illustrator
1864 - 1901


Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French postimpressionist painter, lithographer, and illustrator, who documented the bohemian nightlife of late-19th-century Paris.

Chateau du Bosc-La Terrasse, 1880
Château du Bosc-La Terrasse, 1880
Musée d'Albi, France

Toulouse-Lautrec was born in Albi into one of the oldest aristocratic families. Henri was weak and often sick. By the time he was 10 he had begun to draw and paint. At 12 young Toulouse-Lautrec broke his left leg and at 14 his right leg. The bones failed to heal properly, and his legs stopped growing. He reached young adulthood with a body trunk of normal size but with abnormally short legs. During his convalescence, his mother encouraged him to paint. He subsequently studied with French academic painters L. J. F. Bonnat and Fernand Cormon.

Au salon de la rue des Moulins, 1894
Au salon de la rue des Moulins, 1894
Musée Toulouse-Lautrec

He stayed in the Montmartre section of Paris, the center of the cabaret entertainment and bohemian life that he loved to paint. Circuses, dance halls, nightclubs, racetracks and parisian brothels—all these spectacles were set down on canvas or made into lithographs. Toulouse-Lautrec was very much a part of all this activity. He would sit at a crowded nightclub table, laughing and drinking, and at the same time he would make swift sketches.

La Goulue arriving at the Moulin Rouge
La Goulue arrivant au Moulin Rouge
1892, The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Toulouse-Lautrec preserved his impressions of these places and their celebrities in portraits and sketches of striking originality and power. Outstanding examples are La Goulou Entering the Moulin Rouge (1892, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi), Jane Avril Entering the Moulin Rouge (1892, Courtauld Gallery, London), and Au salon de la rue des Moulins (1894, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec).

Le divan japonais, 1893
Le divan japonais, 1893
Musée Toulouse-Lautrec

Toulouse-Lautrec, many of whose works are in the museum that bears his name in Albi, was a prolific creator. His oeuvre includes great numbers of paintings, drawings, etchings, lithographs, and posters, as well as illustrations for various contemporary newspapers. He incorporated into his own highly individual method elements of the styles of various contemporary artists, especially French painters Edgar Degas and Paul Gauguin. Japanese art, then coming into vogue in Paris, influenced his use of sharp delineation, asymmetric composition, oblique angles, and flat areas of color. His work inspired van Gogh, Georges Seurat, and Georges Rouault.

His alcoholic dissipation, however, eventually brought on a paralytic stroke, to which he succumbed at Malromé, one of his family's estates. Since then his paintings and posters--particularly the 'Moulin Rouge' group—have been in great demand and bring high prices at auctions and art sales.


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